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Groups find middle ground for Paso water basin governance 

In recent months, two groups have tackled the ailing Paso Robles Groundwater Basin with separate and differing proposals aimed at overseeing future water use. But earlier this month, those groups agreed to join forces for a single groundwater management structure proposal.

Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS)—made up mainly of viticulturalists—and PRO Water Equity—a group of rural residents—have been in private discussions hashing out the agreement, while also playing dominant roles in the public discussion regarding the dropping water levels in the basin.

“We are pleased to announce that—through compromise—we have agreed upon a proposal to put before the public,” the groups wrote in a joint statement released Dec. 5. “We believe this proposal provides fair and equitable representation for basin water users and a structure that meets the long term needs of the area.”

In August, both groups supported the passage of an urgency ordinance approved by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. The ordinance bars new and increased groundwater pumping unless an offset is made or a project qualifies for an exemption—though the details were still under contention at the time.

During that time, members of both groups expressed to New Times that they’re more focused on long-term solutions, particularly a management structure that holds the power to potentially monitor water use, attain supplemental water, and levy fees and taxes for funding.

The agreement comes just more than a week after two new groups filed lawsuits challenging the ordinance and laying down a quiet title claim to assert water rights. While neither PRAAGS nor PRO Water Equity said the lawsuits necessarily pressed the groups to reach an agreement, the litigation has raised tensions over the basin.

The proposed board has seven members, with two directors elected by large landowners and two elected by small- to medium-size land owners—both decided by yet-to-be-determined acreage classifications. Residents within the district will elect the other three directors.

Any management body set up will have to be approved by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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